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Women don’t want to run large companies - is this a good thing?

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk


I’ve just read the US News and World Report cover story titled The New Mommy Track. As many others have done before, it talks about ways that working moms are opting out of traditional corporate careers and are finding ways to work with more flexibility. Besides being surprised - ok, and a little disappointed - that Work It, Mom! wasn’t included as a resource in this issue focused on working moms, I thought it was a good overview article until I read this paragraph:

2006 Lifetime Television poll found that the most popular goal among women ages 18 to 29 was to manage their own companies, with 47 percent of respondents choosing it. Yet becoming president of a major corporation was named by only 10 percent of respondents.

I’ve written here before about the great entrepreneurship trend among women (and moms) and why I think starting your own business is one of the best ways to gain some flexibility (I choose the 80 hours a week that I work.) But it’s the second part that worries me: If women don’t want to run big companies, is this a good thing?

It’s a bit hypocritical for me to write about this because I am one of those women. At one point in my career I was on a track that could lead me - well, in 15 years or so - to a position where I could run a large company or at least a large division of a company. I didn’t have kids back then and wasn’t even married, but I looked ahead and stepped off that track - nothing about it was attractive to me. I knew I could get the excitement, leadership, and sense of achievement and contributing something by working with smaller companies or starting one of my own; when I saw the lives that people who were in the high-powered corporate positions led, I knew it would be almost impossible to do that while spending enough time with family.

But if we don’t have women running large companies is this a good thing? What does it do to the ongoing fight for pay equality or having workplaces that understand moms and our needs to work differently? On an even broader scale, is it a good thing for our daughters to not see women in these high-powered positions?

I don’t have answers to these questions; I find that I am extremely conflicted when I think about them. I think women should have the opportunity to run whatever companies they choose and I think we can do a damn great job of it. But I also know that that type of lifestyle is hardly compatible with being a mom and have no idea how people like Meg Whitman do it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions, so please share them here.

For some interesting findings about the corporate glass ceiling for women, check out this post from The Work/Life Balancing Act. 

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3 comments so far...

  • I think large corporations NEED more women in leadership roles. If you ever worked in the corporate world you know that there tends to be a lack of organization (process? what is that?) and an abundance of good ol’ boy mentality. Oftentimes, promotions are as much about who you are and who you know as they are about WHAT YOU KNOW and what you can DO for an organization. I’d like to see more women handed opportunities like some men seem to be handed.

    I would absolutely take a leadership role in an organization. If it turns me into a terrible parent then there must be a HELLUVA a LOT of bad fathers in leadership positions in this world.

    Kathy - man, I love your energy! On a more serious note, it is very much about who you are and who you know and how you work the politics of the place - and one thing I think we, as women, don’t do enough of is playing the games that need to be played to get to the top. I don’t think we’re inherently bad at them - quite the opposite. What I’ve encountered is that many women somehow think that they should be rewarded just on merit -but it’s just not how it work, unfortunately.


    KathyHowe  |  August 29th, 2007 at 10:48 am

  • Wow. Thanks for posting about this article — it’s all about ME!!! Ok, well maybe not me specifically, but I am a living breathing example of someone who has negotiated a non-linear career path and flexible schedule.

    The big corporation thing doesn’t concern me so much. I think Kathy is right that big companies tend to be more male oriented and less mommy-friendly. But I think that may start to change once companies realize that they will be less competitive unless they become more flexible for their workforce.

    The article that concerned me in this US News issue is the one about Alpha Moms. The media seems to be picking up on this lately, but I’m not sure the Alpha Mom image is a healthy one for us moms. While there are many of us who are working really hard to make the working mom thing work, none of us really feel that we’ve truly figured it out or are “in control.” Unless you’re a “Nanny Diaries” type of mom who isn’t entirely engaged in your children’s lives, it’s a real fallacy to say that moms who juggle it all are on top of things. How is this different from the “Super Mom” delusion we’ve been trying to dispel?

    Amy S.  |  August 29th, 2007 at 7:23 pm

  • Amy, I totally agree about the Alpha Moms - working moms need less of that type of pressure. I know I do!

    Nataly  |  August 30th, 2007 at 4:53 am